Tove Lo: “I’ve worked so hard on getting to a healthy relationship with food and loving my body from my experiences with an eating disorder. I almost feel like if I hadn’t gone through with saying no to people (on shoots), I would be more messed up.”
Alice Gee | 14/09/2022
I sit down with the queen of pop herself, Tove Lo, late evening Monday, excited to delve into the making of her new album ‘Dirt Femme. ‘ The Djursholm-raised pop star joins me smiling, full of energy from what looks like a studio space in LA. Looking relaxed and comfortable from our initial pleasantries, I’m quick to jump into the interview, curious to learn a little more about the singers’ early childhood and that all-important move from Sweden to the city of bright lights, New York, before settling in LA.
“I lived in Sweden until I was 27. From there, I ended up in New York, and afterward, I moved to LA. From 2004 When I started writing professionally for other people, I traveled nonstop.” As Tove Lo talks more about the move, I ask where she prefers to call home. She pauses for a moment before telling me of the ever swaying of emotions when it came to now choosing LA over being a New York resident.
“It’s a big cultural change from LA to New York. For the first two years living in LA, I wondered, what am I doing here? Everyone told me to give it time, and now I love it. I couldn’t live anywhere else. Although I probably won’t live there the rest of my life, I love it. I live with a great group of friends. I love my house. It’s just a nice place to return to when constantly traveling and on tour.”
Following the release of her debut album in 2014, Tove Lo sparked instant recognition and success for her second single “Habits”, which peaked at number three on the Billboard charts. The star herself rocketed to fame overnight, a world away from the one she knew. Having cultivated such exposure and interest almost instantly, I wanted to speak about the social changes she must have faced, curious about how life has changed.
“I was in the States when it took off. I went from indie radio interviews in Sweden to this American music machine. That was a bit of a culture shock. I think just in general, being a pop artist on a major label, you’re expected to handle things, especially all sorts of supperficial things like wearing makeup, having your hair done and being styled, that aren’t necessarily music-related. It was a different world. But I eventually viewed it as another way to express myself and have a lot of fun. But in the beginning, I wouldn’t say I liked sitting in hair and makeup. I just felt like it didn’t look like myself. I didn’t know what I liked. What surprised me was people acted like I should know because I was 26. I’d only had the start of a pop career in Sweden. They didn’t understand that this was my first song, my first experience of all of this. Honestly, at the time it was a mix between it being amazing, and thinking I cannot believe that this is happening to me but also being terrified.”
It seems complicated to imagine waking up to such a stark difference in 24 hours, “I think you’re so in the moment you don’t feel like much time is passing. When I think about it, it was so fast from the time I played my very first show to when everything was taking off. I don’t think I could have prepared for that.”
Embarking on her American tour throughout November, Tove Lo acknowledges the excitement and difficulties of being away from home for so long.
“The thing is, I never used to miss going home, I loved to be out and about. I felt more rooted in the tour bus with my band. I felt very free. Even if I was working, I somehow felt free of everyday obligations. I didn’t have to show up for people. I guess I had a sort of lack of responsibility. I didn’t like having too many demands and relationships, which probably tells a lot about where I was. But I think things changed after the pandemic, and having to be at home for two years. I had created a home that I love. My husband and I live with three best friends, and we all share a dog. We like to have parties and have people come around. I will miss it, but I can’t wait to return to touring. I’m so happy to be back on the road.”
As we move back into normality, post-pandemic, it’s hard to avoid what’s been left behind from the break in our routines. Tove Lo explains that amongst the anxiety and sorrow of the pandemic, she’s open to what’s been learned.
“In ways, something good had to have come out of it, for many people it was learning something. Otherwise, we have to ask if we have learned nothing. I think many people reevaluated their lives and had the opportunity to make some changes. Although so many people had the most horrible traumatic time in their lives, I think that it’s okay to take something good from the situation.”
As for changes, Tove Lo’s embraced a big one as she shows me a picture of the dog she adopted over Lockdown. “I’m a big dog lover. Originally we fostered her. I had contacted a foster family in Lockdown to see if I could look after a dog for a few weeks or months. They reached out and said we have this dog that was found with these other puppies about a week old. We took care of them all before they got adopted at nine weeks. That day, we had this moment where we couldn’t give her away. I just couldn’t let her go.”
We digress as we pull ourselves away from sweet photos of their family pet. Following on from our earlier conversation of lessons learned, I’m interested in the culture shock Tove Lo mentioned following her progression to fame, “I do feel because now I’m 34, I don’t feel like the same person I was when I started out. So although that maybe means that I’ve changed in many ways, I still feel I understand the person I was. I guess it’s trial and error,” as she explains the difficulties that come hand in hand with industry assumptions and having your opinions heard. “I always put my foot down. People will always get uncomfortable when you say you don’t want to do something. I used to care about what they thought but not so much anymore.”
“It’s funny because I did a shoot here yesterday, and in the States it’s different. Something I’ve noticed when you do fashion shoots for a magazine here is no one objects to what they wear. Sample sizes are very, very thin if you’re a normal-sized person. If I’ve promised to shoot this outfit on me, and it doesn’t fit, you have to make this work. But I can’t do it if I’m not comfortable due to sizing. I will say no if it doesn’t fit, but I used to take it as my responsibility that my body wasn’t fitting it.”
The only words that could come out of my mouth were how triggering the ordeal must have been for her, “I’ve worked so hard on getting to a healthy relationship with food and loving my body from my experiences with an eating disorder.” I can only imagine the difficulties from having my own experiences with disordered eating. “I almost feel like if I hadn’t gone through with saying no to people, I would be more fucked up.” She continues confidently, “I am so happy that I was in a good place for years before I started being in the public eye. The sort of comments you have to handle and the environments you’re thrown into where people will openly say it’s your fault. You’re a musician, an artist. That’s not what I signed up for.”
Having carved a space where she could blossom, it’s clear to see how Tove Lo can champion the creative process. Something that stands out to me about her upcoming album is how well thought out the narrative is in terms of the sound and the accompanying visual elements. This creativity has been integral to her music from the beginning, helping propel her to new heights. The few visuals released are captivating, or as Tove Lo describes them “Wonder Woman big dick energy”. Examining the video shorts, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the aspirations behind them.
“I’m making the scenes that I really want. Because of how visual we are now, I wanted to make a visual story about everything. Ultimately I couldn’t make 12 videos with the budget I had, but I still wanted there to be a visual experience for every song on the record. It’s sonically cinematic, dramatic, and emotional, and much of it concerns my relationship with my femininity and fear of the phenomenon. It’s a theme running throughout.
I wanted to assign a kind of movie character based on a side of mein each one. In one of the scenes, you have a damsel in distress who is getting saved by this other very physically strong woman, a nod to Alabama in the movie to Roman Summer, this wonderful big dick energy. My goal was to have a sense of power, owning and accepting yourself even when you’re vulnerable”.
It’s a sentiment embodied in what feels like a unique mural of diverse sounds, from stripped-back songs to electro-pop anthems. “Honestly, in the beginning, I was nervous, worrying it was too many sounds, landscapes, and Swedish expressions. It’s contradicting at times but I recognised that every human has all the cycles showing different moments of themselves. I think the thread that ties them together is me and my words.”
As we touch upon the concept of words, it feels like the right moment to talk with Tove Lo about the anxiety involved with her voice when going through vocal surgery.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through. In my life, at that point, it was just a combination of things. I was in a terrible relationship, and it was just after my first album came out. There was a lot of pressure on me. At the time I was being told this is your moment; keep your momentum. That was the energy, but the worst part was that people didn’t really believe me when I told them I was unwell and that I needed to go to a vocal doctor, nor did they believe my doctor in New York as he’s telling me you cannot sing, even talk on your vocal cords. Everything was falling apart. At the time I wanted to do everything, but I physically couldn’t. I was going to open for Katy Perry in Australia, which I had been looking forward to in forever. I talked to the doctors, and they compromised, they said you can if you want, but it won’t sound perfect. It was a 30-minute set, with no interviews or talking, and then they’d do the surgery. When I got back from the surgery, it was just this feeling of pain, but all I needed was to hear that my voice was still there. I had to wait five days, which was a very traumatising time. After eight weeks of recovery, I didn’t recognise my voice by the end of it. It took me two years to get back to some form of normal.”
Being so open about the struggles involved with not only the surgery but healing both physically and mentally, I wonder whether being so genuine and honest about it and her other experiences with crisis and mental health have helped?
“I think, in general, you very quickly realise that you’re not alone when talking about things. People are starved of talking about things that are hard for them or when being vulnerable. I grew up with a mom as a therapist, so I was encouraged to talk about my problems. I feel like it’s always been close to me to share what I think and feel. But it’s not always been granted as I haven’t always felt safe sharing. But when I think about writing music about what I go through, even if it’s just my mind, my fears, my worst nightmares, or my hopes and dreams, everything, writing the song means I have to talk about it. So it really helps me. I know so many people feel the same way and have had similar stories, making me feel like I’m not alone in this. We all share these moments in our lives, making it a lot easier to deal with.”
Something that I have no doubt is being adopted by many, both fans and newcomers is Tove Lo’s positive attitude that encourages faith that things get better. And when it comes to Tove Lo’s unapologetic attitude in speaking her mind and advocating for better personal confidence, threaded through her new music and publicly facing life, it’s the essence that is infectious and will in no doubt continue into future works.
Words: Alice Gee